By David Gracey
The oldest of the three Gracey offspring graduated from high school recently and will be heading off to college in the fall. Over the years, numerous people have asked me for purchasing advice, but this is the first time I’ve experienced buying a laptop for a college-bound student myself. Like years past, there are many options to consider when making the laptop purchasing decision.
Here are the main things to look for:
Mac vs. PC: Which platform is better, Apple or Windows? This is the age-old debate which began in the late 1970s. While I’m not going to debate the merits of either system, I will mention that the more the IT world moves to the cloud, the less relevant the local appliance that connects to it becomes. All things being equal, Macs cost much more than PCs. It really comes down to what is within your budget and what your student is accustomed to. A typical Mac will cost 25% – 75% more than a comparably equipped Windows-based laptop. There are many different varieties of Windows systems and only one Apple.
Microsoft Office: This is the most commonly used application in business and colleges, so buying a copy of Office is a requirement. Some universities provide Microsoft Office directly to their students. If you buy Office directly from Microsoft, it’s a $149 one-time purchase for the Student edition, or you can get the Personal 365 edition (which includes Outlook, Publisher, and Access) for $70 per year.
College Buying Programs: Some universities offer a discount for certain makes and models of laptops for their students. These programs can save you a lot of money, so check with your university to see if they have such a program.
Performance: The 3 important “performance guts” of the computer are processing power, memory, and storage. For each of these, the more the better, but there is a point of diminishing return for each of them.
- Processor: Unless you are going to become an architect or engineer, the middle-of-the-road processor is the sweet spot. Go with an Intel i5 or equivalent.
- RAM: Short-term memory greatly affects the overall speed of your system. 4GB is minimum, 8GB is ideal, and 16GB is optimal. Again, respect your budget.
- Storage: The hard drive is where all the system and data files reside. As more data is stored in the cloud, local storage isn’t as important as it used to be. 128GB is the minimum, and 256GB is the sweet spot. SSD drives are faster but more expensive than SATA drives.
Tablets: Great for browsing the Internet, checking email, and streaming videos. Not great at note-taking in a classroom or working on a project. Stick with a laptop.
Size Matters: Most students want a light, small laptop to carry around. The screen size is the driver behind weight and size. A 12” or 13” screen is the sweet spot right now. 15” screens are cumbersome and take up too much desktop room.
Warranty: Get a 3-year warranty that includes accidental damage protection. Yes, your offspring will drop it while jumping a curb, so make sure it’s protected. Costs about $150.
Security: Purchase a decent anti-virus/anti-malware program such as WebRoot, McAfee, or AVG. Do not buy Kaspersky. PCs get more viruses than Macs. It’s a numbers thing.
Sending your child off to college is a big deal. While these tips won’t help you when it comes to tuition or empty nest syndrome, I hope they make it easier for you to select the right laptop for your student!